From the National Tribune, 9/21/1899, p.1

A Union Man in Richmond
Personal recollections of the Great Rebellion by a Man on the Inside.
BY A NATIVE VIRGINIAN.
Copyright, 1899, by the Publishers of THE NATIONAL TRIBUNE.

About this period, the first of 1863, Madam Old Jones, at the conclusion of breakfast, arose, and with manifest dignity and befitting solemnity said: “My friends, I regret, exceedingly regret, to have to make an announcement which positively distresses me beyond power of expression. Beef is $1.25 per pound; pork, $1.50; butter, $1.50; coffee, $4; tea, $3.50; oysters, $4 per gallon; turkeys, $10 and $15 each, and even mutton is $2 per pound; everything else in proportion, and but for the fact that I own the house I should at once discontinue business.” And then Miss Old Jones, with a sigh, announced that she was compelled to advance our board from that day to $28 a week.

Mrs. Old Jones had spoken, and it was a touching scene indeed, as she then placed her handkerchief to her eyes, as if distressed beyond power of words to express. For awhile there was no response from the boarders, but as we left the table, one said, “That is rough,” and another, that he was afraid he could not stand it; but my friend George and myself boldly announced that we should remain purely as a sort of compliment to Madam Old Jones. This she received smilingly, with many thanks, and approaching us, shook us by the hand cordially, assuring us that she would do herself the pleasure to mention the pleasing circumstance when she wrote to Old Jones in the “calvary” at Danville.

One or two left, and among them was Miss Sophronia. Now, be it known that not one of the articles, except beef and mutton, that Mrs. Old Jones referred to as having risen in price, had ever appeared on her table; but let it go at that.

SCARCITY OF PROVISIONS.

Provisions of every kind had indeed assumed a more decided upward tendency, and, in truth, Mrs. Old Jones did exaggerate but little as to process, and, besides, I know from actual observation that most people went to the Seventeenth Street Market before daybreak, and waited till dawn, and quickly made their purchases as soon as it was light enough to see.

The rich, of course, sent their servants with large baskets or vehicles, and seized everything in sight, while the poorer classes came later and took the leavings, which were much cheaper, to be sure; and I shall never know or imagine how the latter classes prevented actual starvation, particularly from that period to the end of the war.

Of course, the proceeds of the women’s “bread riot” only lasted them a limited time. Women, the ministering angels of earth, assisted in various ways to alleviate the poverty and distress of the poorer class to the end, and charity was not wanting among the sterner sex either; the noble Order of Masons and other Orders did not forget the poor, nor did Masons forget the “widow’s son,” nor those three grandest words as applied to earthly affairs - “Faith, Hope, and Charity. So be it. Amen.”

Now we have a rich and amusing scene, and actual occurrence at our boarding house.

About two weeks subsequent to the sudden announcement by Mrs. Old Jones of the advance of prices for board at breakfast there seemed to be no sugar in the coffee, and several boarders remarked upon its absence.

“Have a little patience, my friends; you will be served in a moment,” said our landlady, whereupon a little girl began her round with a glass jug containing molasses. She offered it meekly to the boarders to sweeten their coffee with, some receiving it, while others shook their heads disdainfully. Approaching me with the “long lick,” as it was called when I was a boy, I meekly poured it in my coffee in humiliating recognition of our mutual fallen fortunes.

My friend George looked askance at the molasses jug with his good eye, - he had but one perfect one, - and much presented the general appearance of a man who was offered codfish balls in lieu of broiled salmon. George declined with thanks.

Mrs. Old Jones rose, looked dignified, but exceedingly severe, as was becoming the occasion, and said: “Friends, don’t blame me, you have no right to. Blame that old cock-eyed miscreant and general villain, old Ben Butler. It is he that is the cause of my sorrow and humiliation this morning. You all know that he has lately, in his monstrous audacity, seized and took forcible possession of the city of New Orleans, and Louisiana, and has entirely cut off our supply of sugar, hence the painful scene of this morning; and, further, I read that he has actually hung a most estimable gentleman, Mumford by name, I believe, because he simply pulled down a flag or tried to run sugar out of the city, or something like that.” and Madam Old Jones thus concluded her speech and wept visible tears.

Trials and tribulations now crowd upon us unrelentingly, and it was whispered that the dreaded small-pox had invaded the city. Then the papers and doctors confirmed the rumor. The most of the cases seemed to be in our vicinity, - Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth street - and it was said that Longstreet’s men brought the affliction to the city. Longstreet’s army was then encamped some 10 or 15 miles east of the city, and the rumor was doubtless true. With the small-pox came also a species of camp itch, said also to have been brought in by the soldiers, and long gloves became fashionable with the female sex, thus concealing this affliction from the observer, as it seemed that only the hands and wrists became affected, with which fact may be attributed to hand shaking with their friends from the army. Flags were put up - yellow flags - at houses where the small-pox existed, and a small-pox hospital established out beyond Rockets, and people so afflicted were promptly moved there by the city authorities.

A FEARFUL NIGHT SCENE.

Now comes a dramatic scene rarely witnessed. A cry of “Fire! Fire!” rang out suddenly one night, and from the taps of bells it was evident it was in our Ward. On going around the corner, a block or so away, nearly opposite the Old Market, I saw the flames bursting from the lower part of a building, and from an alleyway that led from the rear of the building to Main street. I knew the friends who occupied the house, and had often left chicken soup, bread, etc., at their door, they being all down with the small-pox, and the good Dr. Waring was the only person who ever entered the house until they recovered, and strongly advised all persons not to go in the house, but leave food at the door, then knock, and at once leave the premises; but there were few who would risk even going as near as the outer door.

The fire engine came and rapidly opened a stream of water, directing it up the alley first. They wanted to notify the occupants to move to the upper story while they flooded the lower story, and while debating upon it one of the females of the afflicted family, an old lady, appeared on the front balcony, with shawl over her, and saw me, and in words I could not hear besought the protection of High Heaven. I then motioned her to go upstairs. She hesitated, then returned, and all the family, three or four in number, climbed on their hands and knees, as I was afterwards informed, to the floor above, and were saved, as the firemen then directed a powerful and continuous stream on the floor the poor people had just left, and subdued the flames, after the hardest kind of work. It being one of the coldest nights of Winter, the water thrown by the engine froze in a minute or so after falling back to the earth. The firemen and citizens assisting were slipping, sliding, and falling about in all directions. This was during the month of February, 1863.

It was a brave fight, and the firemen were the victors. A great shout went up in the cold night when the fire was subdued on the first floor, and the occupants, or one of them at least, waved hands and shawl from a window from the second story of the building. They had been saved from the flames, and, strange to say, they all recovered from the small-pox, and eventually went North, they being of a strong Union family. The head of the family was Phillip Warren, a brother-in-law of the writer. He eventually went through the lines by way of North Carolina, reaching Portsmouth, Va., occupied by the Federal forces. I reached the same town soon after.

Phillip Warren’s wife then applied to old Gen. Winder, Commandant of Richmond, for a pass to the North, when that old creature replied: “Oh, oh! I suppose your husband has already gone?”

She was spunky, and replied that if he had gone so much the more reason for the pass for her and her mother, Mrs. Birdsong. After much insulting talk from Winder, to which Mrs. Warren replied to defiantly, a pass was given her and her mother, and they went by way of Fredericksburg to Washington, and thence to Fort Monroe, where she met her husband.

THE HERO PREACHER.

Just previous to the secession of Virginia from the Union, and while the question of the dissolution of the Union was being agitated, there was a minister located in Richmond by name the Rev. Mr. Healy, who had been sent from Baltimore to take charge of the Universalist Church, there being but one church of that denomination in Richmond. The church was located on Mayo street near Broad. There were many members, and the church flourished. While the subject of secession was being agitated it was rumored that the Rev. Healy opposed the doctrine, and so advised his congregation, privately more than otherwise. The storm of disunion grew darker, and finally resulted in the passage of what is known as the secession ordinance. Brother Healy said but little from the pulpit beyond suggesting moderation, prudence, etc. The ministers of the orthodox churches hurled a few of their dry theological bones at him, and there was feeling exhibited on both sides, but the Rev. Healy made no public reply at the time, but calmly went his way. A week or two, however, after the secession of the state, brother Healy arose in his pulpit and delivered a most scathing sermon regarding the situation, denouncing Jeff Davis, his followers, and the doctrine of secession. He scourged the leaders and the cause of secession to such an extent that several Secessionists present arose and left the church. Most of the congregation were surprised to note this ordinary mild-mannered gentleman declaim against the secession movement and its leaders with so much vehemence and power, and there was much agitation among the members present.

Concluding his sermon, he said something like this: “My friends, I suspect that this will be my last sermon before you in this city, and I may not ever meet any of you again this side of “His Gates,” but my best wishes and prayers will always be with you. Avoid taking part, to the best of your ability, in this monstrous movement against your country and flag. I feel that in my discourse this morning I have fulfilled my duty to my God, this congregation, and mankind generally. May God be with you. Farewell.”

There was a gentle murmur of approval and admiration, and, after much hand-shaking, the Rev. Healy and his flock retired to their homes.

The news had gone swiftly to the Confederates, and scarcely an hour had elapsed when the Universalist preacher was arrested at his home and carried before a board of inquiry and his case examined into. There was considerable excitement, and many good friends appeared for Brother Healy, making offers of bail and other kindly offices.

Being asked what he had to say, he replied that he had nothing to retract; that he had placed himself in the “hands of the Lord, in the eternal Heavens.” He refused to offer bail, and the city being much excited, Brother Healy was told he must depart from the city and go North at once. He replied that he was ready. A passport was given him, and after meeting many friends at his home, he departed for Baltimore. After a while we read of his safe arrival in Baltimore with his pretty daughter.

The other preachers of the city, led by Brother Burrows, at once swallowed the whole secession doctrine and preached it from their pulpits, and at Camp Lee to the soldiers. Brother Burrows rode much in his great top covered buggy, and he had a habit of suddenly poking his head out, first on one side then on the other, with a more or less agitated look. I often noticed this action, and wondered if Brother Burrows feared that the evil one was in pursuit of him.

STRANGE SCENES AN INCIDENTS.

During the Seven Days’ battle between the Confederate army and Gen. McClellan’s forces, it was currently reported that Jeff Davis was shot at while he and one or two officers were proceeding to the battlefield. The shot was fired from a small unoccupied house at the foot of “Union Hill,” one of the seven hills on and about which Richmond is built, and near Twenty-fifth and Main streets, just above “Rockets.” The report was that the occupants of the carriage heard the shot and the whistle of the bullet.

The daily papers were silent about the matter, but the story was firmly believed by most of the people of Richmond.

Soon after this event the “thugs” appeared in Richmond - genuine thugs - and created the greatest possible consternation among the inhabitants. The first case known was that of an old gentleman from the country who was found in a timber lot near Main and Nineteenth streets quite insensible. Upon being revived he stated that he was decoyed into the lot by two men, who threw a cord about his neck and drew him to the ground, where he remained unconscious until found. No trace of the thugs could be found but later four or five persons were garroted and robbed on side streets leading from Main street. The police and street guards were everywhere on the alert, but no arrests were made.

The victim in each case stated that he was approached from the front by two men, one of whom threw a stout rope over his head, while the other seized him by the throat! It seemed that I was to witness one of the attacks of the “garroters,” as I, seemingly accidental, witnessed so many monstrous and curious scenes. While the “garroting” business was at its height, while seated at a window not more than six feet above the street, reading a paper, I heard a slight commotion of the sidewalk. Looking out I saw, not more than six feet from me, two men strangling a third, and the assailed man was sinking to the earth. One of the garroters quickly had the stranger’s purse and watch. The whole affair did not last more than half a minute. I gave the alarm from the window, as did another person on the sidewalk.

Two or three policemen advanced from in front of the police station, at the Seventeenth Street Market, and pursued the garroters, at the same time firing on them. The garroters ran almost directly towards Libby Prison, firing over their shoulders at the police as they ran, and they fired so rapidly and hit the rocky street so near the police that the latter retired behind the pillars in front of the market house, and the garroters made their escape. It was approaching twilight, and I had witnessed the whole affair from my window, a scene which I had read about, but had never before witnessed. None of the garroters were ever arrested, strange to say; and soon after this event they disappeared as suddenly as they had come.

A short time after the garroters had disappeared, I was passing out of my house about 8 o’clock at night, when, just outside my door, partially concealed by some framework, lay a man who had apparently a large club by his side. Keeping my eye on him, I passed on and at once proceeded to the Old Market Police Station and requested the police to investigate the affair. An officer accompanied me, and we somewhat cautiously approached the man, who, as the officer roused him, acted as if he were very drunk. I then noticed that what I took for a large club was the man’s wooden leg.

The man apparently could not stand without assistance. He was finally carried off towards the police station, and, being somewhat suspicious of the case, I watched them through the window blinds. When they reached the covered walk of the old market near the entrance to the station door, the drunken man, to my great surprise, straightened up, and, after a few words with the policeman, walked off in a lively and perfectly sober manner. The whole affair was suspicious, and it seemed quite plain to me that the policeman was in collusion with the wooden-legged man in connection with some rascally business, perhaps watching to report who entered my house, or, perhaps, for a worse purpose. Who shall tell?

About a week after this event my friend, George Sizer, spent the evening with me, as he frequently did. About 9 o’clock came a loud knock at the door. George and myself went to the door and asked “Who is there?” There were evidently two or three men on the outside, as we could hear them whispering to each other. One said: “Does Mr. Johnson live here; we want to see him on important business.”

I replied that no such person lived there; but they insisted upon coming in anyway. George drew a heavy revolver as they began pounding the door, and called to them that if they entered they would be shot, whereupon they ceased pounding, and, after another hurried consultation, departed almost without noise. After these strange events I took rooms with George Sizer, and remained with him until I went “through the lines” to the North, as told in a previous chapter.

(To be continued.)

 

Page last updated on 07/24/2009